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Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  46,653 ratings  ·  1,059 reviews
Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who winks at us. An ambitious urban entrepreneur who rose up the social ladder, from leather-aproned shopkeeper to dining with kings, he seems made of flesh rather than of marble. In bestselling author Walter Isaacson's vivid and witty full-scale biography, we discover why Franklin seems to turn to us from history's stage with eyes ...more
Paperback, 586 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2003)
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If Alexander Hamilton is one of the most underappreciated of the Founders then Benjamin Franklin is one of the most misunderstood. Isaacson ends his book with a concluding chapter that details this misundestanding. Throughout history each generation has taken a new look at Benjamin Franklin. As the author points out, Thoreau mocked him, Carnegie adored him and D.H. Lawrence despised him. So who was right, and why?

Isaacson, while pointing out his faults and follies, does not hide his own admirat
Jason Koivu
An excellent start-to-finish biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life begins by touching on his childhood as best as it can considering the lack of material to work with. After that, Isaacson takes the reader through a more detailed account of Franklin's early entrepreneurial life, through his many inventions, and into his later statesmen days. I was struck by the author's well-balanced hand for both time, achievements, personal and professional details, and philosophical and political ide ...more
Jul 22, 2013 Chrissie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Laura
ETA: I decided to change this to four stars since I enjoyed the author's Einstein even more, and I gave that four.


Why do YOU want to pick up a book about Benjamin Franklin? If you want his biographical details you need not even read a book, just check out Wikipedia. I wanted more. I wanted to understand his soul. I wanted to get under his skin. I wanted all the historical details in Wikipedia and more. I got what I wanted. Benjamin was an amazing person; people have only a
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Dec 15, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: American History Buffs
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Ultimate Reading List - Biography
This was a pleasure and just the kind of biography I find trustworthy. The kind that acknowledges other views and controversies and with extensive notes and sources in the back. More than that, it's the rare biography that can inspire smiles and even giggles--I'd mark this up to five stars if I could credit Isaacson for that--but the source of the humor is the frequent quotes from Benjamin Franklin himself. Isaacson said in his introduction that "Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who wink ...more
I loved this book. Isaacson did a fair and balanced job, describing the man without whitewashing over his flaws. By the end, I felt like Franklin was mine, like he somehow belonged to me. I knew he would be an interesting person, but I had no idea how much this man did with his life. Nor did I understand just how involved he was before there was any US at all. We could still be a British colony without him - or even a French one! Something else I never learned in school, France's involvement.

Went to the King Tut exhibit in 2007 and was equally impressed by the Ben Franklin museum - where the exhibit was shown in PA. Loved this book; learned so much - maybe I'm a nerd but it was a page turner that I looked forward to each day!
Seeking to continue my trek to better understand the birth of America and its Founding Fathers, I tackled Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin. The book offers not only a great examination of the man, but also a wonderful set of vignettes related to all the activities Franklin undertook in his life. This most eclectic of men, the fifth generation of the youngest son of the youngest son, dazzled many he met and Isaacson's presentation surely will pull in many readers as well. In Isaac ...more
This is a throroughly entertaining, well-researched, well-written biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson. It is lengthy (over 600 pages) and one feels obligated to read the footnotes because they further the work. The first third of the book moved quickly (childhood, moving to Philadelphia, beginning life as a printer, Poor Richard's Almanac). The middle third bogs down (life in England and France, the beginning of the Revolution) and the final third picks up (back in France, negotiat ...more
Nate Cooley
Probably the best biographical source on Benjamin Franklin is straight fron the horses mouth . . . his Autobiography. However, Isaacson's book is definitely an engaging read and fairly exhaustive.

My initial impression is that the author is careful in not falling into the a trap that so many biographers often do, in that they deify their protagonist. Isaacson takes an objective approach to Franklin and enumerates his many flaws (or at least what most would perceive as flaws when attributed to on
I enjoy providing background in my reviews of how I’ve acquired or read a book, because I believe it helps to paint a picture of my tastes, desires, and it might even give you more information about me. In other words, maybe the books I read act as my own autobiography. I bought this highly anticipated book only a short time after getting a new job as a store manager with FranklinCovey. Having made good friends with the store manager of the Waldenbooks store down the hall from my old store, I sp ...more
Biographies generally bore me, and this was no exception.

So pedestrian, so conventional, so obviously a poor rehashing of much better Franklin biographies that preceded this one. One wonders why Isaacson even bothered to write the book. Money, perhaps? Whatever his motivation, the result is underwhelming.

One of the difficulties with biography is that you already know most of the plot, and you probably know how it ends too. To create a sense of suspense and excitement, you need to need to do two
Isaacson is getting a lot of attention and reading right now for his Steve Jobs biography and there is some symmetry in his biography of Franklin, surely the Steve Jobs of his day, (a comparison favorable to Jobs, for sure.)

Isaacson does a great job in placing Franklin in his startling historical context. Ben Franklin is old! He is so old when he was born we even reckoned time by a different calendar - the Julian instead of the Gregorian. He was a contemporary of such old-timey Puritan giants as
Mar 27, 2008 Sara rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Americans, scientists, business people, history buffs
Shelves: biography
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pete daPixie
Comprehensively researched and well balanced biography, in very similar territory as McCullough's highly recommended treatise on John Adams. Isaacson's 'Benjamin Franklin-An American Life', published 2003, captures the extraordinary and many faceted eighty four year life of this founding father. A caricature that would be instantly recognisable in The Simpsons, this biography paints a vivid portrait of the man, his times, family, morals, scientific enquiry and political journey.
I have long wishe
The only time this book caught my attention was when I fell asleep reading it in bed and dropped it on my face. I stopped reading before I hurt myself further. This fascinating insight on page 82 was the last straw, "For the last 17 years of Deborah's life, Franklin would be away, including when she died. Nevertheless, their mutual affection, respect, and loyalty - and their sense of partnership - would endure."
Brad Feld
Ben Franklin is one of my heroes, along with Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and a few others. As I start my march through reading books about American presidents, I figured I’d start with a famous American who was never a president but was deeply involved in creating the situation where there could be American presidents.
I’m a big fan of Walter Isaacson and his biographies (I’ve read many of them.) Benjamin Franklin: An American Life didn’t disappoint. Isaacson is great at making a biography
Chad Warner
Jun 21, 2012 Chad Warner rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Benjamin Franklin or the founding of America
Shelves: non-fiction
This thoroughly researched biography takes a close look at Benjamin Franklin’s life, particularly exploring his personality and beliefs. It starts with his English ancestors, follows his parents’ emigration to America, then chronicles his life until his death. I enjoyed reading the stories behind his many maxims. The book provides insight into colonial life before, during, and after the American Revolution. It highlights Franklin’s achievements and lasting influence on America.

I had considered m
Aug 16, 2010 Susan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: American history lovers
While this biography isn't a quick, light read, it is as interesting and complex as the man himself must have been. Isaacson goes far beyond the cartoonish image that many of us have of an old guy flying a kite in a thunderstorm, and uncovers the real person, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Franklin had tremendous influence in the way the United States was formed, and the book covers the politics, Franklin's friends and enemies, and the negotiation and compromises that were necessary to accompli
Jeremy Perron
To say that Benjamin Franklin led an interesting life would be the understatement of the century. Dr. Franklin was the first American to be world famous. He was an American Revolutionary, a theorist on government, a scientist in nearly all fields, and a printer being his first profession. In the end, one can say that there is nothing that the man did not do in his lifetime. Walter Isaacson brings this extraordinary American to life, allowing the reader to explore the world that was with this inc ...more
This book gave me a much broader perspective on Benjamin Franklin. I had read his autobiography in junior high and loved it. I determined that he was the genre of person I would have enjoyed as a friend. The man thinks like me in many respects. I adopted some of his ideas because they fit me.

While I admired him, this book painted a more thorough picture of who he was, flaws and all. Now that I am an adult, it seemed appropriate to see the fuller picture of this character I thought so highly of.
Ben Franklin is one of the most misunderstood of the Founding Fathers, no doubt because his personality could often be so hard to pin down (Franklin often employed satire and misdirection in his arguments and created fictional characters to voice his opinions). Our image of him now is something like a wizened old favorite uncle, always ready with a wink and nudge and a humorous aphorism.

Franklin's place in history has been much more contentious, however. His revolutionary fervor was questioned b
Walter Isaacson has once again written a biography that tells the reader not simply what person X did and when they did it but why this person is important and worth the time taken to try and understand him or her better. He takes the ubiquitous image of Benjamin Franklin and puts him into focus, not easy after 300 years. I came away feeling that I finally had an idea of what this guy was like and agreeing that he was an exceptional person who effected a pivotal role in the creation of the Unite ...more
Carl Brush
Walter Isaacson’s 2003 Ben Franklin An American Life makes a wonderful complement to the 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning Benjamin Franklin by Carl Van Doren. Van Doren’s book is dense and exhaustive and admiring of both the man and his work. Isaacson is thorough as well, but more readable, and more critical, especially of Franklin’s personal life. It’s been several years since I read the Van Doren book, and I don’t plan to go back for a point-by-point analysis, but if you want to read just one, I’d ...more
Keenan Johnston
I love how much effort Isaacson puts into researching his subjects, relying only on his own research and conclusions. I was surprised to hear that he does not have a team to assist him during his research, which in some cases lasts multiple decades before he is ready to begin writing. So why did he pick Benjamin Franklin? Isaacson stated, “One of the things I love about Benjamin Franklin is that he is a spunky, self-taught guy.” Most people think of Franklin as the person who invented electricit ...more
Greg Strandberg
This was an enjoyable read, one I completed in 2008, a few years before this author's Steve Jobs book came out (it's the same guy, right?)

Anyways, you'll get good information on this man's life. I found it well-written, but not that spicy or interesting.

I suspect reading this man's autobiography would be a better option.
One of my heroes has always been Ben Franklin. Issacson's treatment of him here is an honest account of his many great triumphs and successes, while not shying away from his many faults and foibles. Frankiln was a deep and complex character and this book does a good job of exploring the many facets of that character.
Ted Haussman

When you read the opening comments from a veritable "Who's Who?" of modern-day scholars of the Revolutionary period, you know you are embarking on a gem of a narrative and it was. Isaacson does a phenomenal job of synthesizing and revealing the vast complexities of Franklin's character and even the ensuing criticism of his acts and actions as the Enlighenment age morphed into the Romantic one up to the present day. The account is balanced, not only explaining the many lasting achievements that F
Franklin is one of those iconic figures, who is so prominent in the popular culture, that it is easy to think you know more about him than you do.

I found Isaacson's biography engaging, illuminating, and thought-provoking. Isaacson is not a professional historian, and isn't trying to bring to light any new sources. Rather, he is able to provide a coherent picture of the man, his character, and his legacy. The narrative flows along well, the subject is fascinating, and I found myself regularly la
I was blown away by Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs. So knowing this would have to be different (no interviews of the subject or his contemporaries), I was excited when my book club selected this earlier work by Isaacson. I have been through the swings in how we in the US view Benjamin Franklin from childhood history classes that presented him as a hero to an adult perception of a cartoonish figure to amazement at becoming reacquainted with his many interests by the museum in Phil ...more
Walter Isaacson has written a book which adds to the huge proliferation of Benjamin Franklin biographies. He has a talent for biographies, having produced a book on Henry Kissinger before this one, and a study of Albert Einstein more recently. He knows how to present the details of a famous person's life in an enjoyable, informative manner. This is not a light version of Franklin's life; it stands on its own among the numerous others as a most respectable effort.

There is so much "stuff" that Fra
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Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of "Time" magazine. He is the author of "Steve Jobs"; "Einstein: His Life and Universe"; "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life"; and "Kissinger: A Biography," and the coauthor of "The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made." He lives in Washington, DC.
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Steve Jobs Einstein: His Life and Universe The Innovators: How a Group of  Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made Kissinger

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“Knowledge, he realized, “was obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue.” 3 likes
“When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him.” 2 likes
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